In 1984, psychologist and author John Welwood coined the term “spiritual bypass.”
In Soulshaping, I defined the spiritual bypass “as the tendency to jump to spirit prematurely, usually in an effort to avoid various aspects of earthly reality.” This way of being was very familiar to me, as I have often displayed a tendency to bypass uncomfortable truths by jumping to divinity.
On a pogo-stick to the stars, I enjoyed the opportunity to pseudo-transcend the dualities before inevitably crashing back to earth to deal with my unfinished business.
In Soulshaping, I also acknowledged the need for bypass techniques in a still difficult world:
“In a world of pain, the spiritual bypass is an ongoing temptation. It gives us something to believe in and a vision of what we are missing in our localized reality. Without it, many of us would have to suffer unbearable situations. At the same time, it can be a detour on the path to genuine spirituality. In our efforts to leapfrog to something better, we often avoid something crucial. Spirit becomes the crutch rather than the expression of a natural unfolding.”
Subsequently, Robert Augustus Masters dedicated an entire book to this important topic—”Spiritual Bypassing- When Spirituality Disconnects Us from What Really Matters.”
As the term grows in popularity, I have noticed that it has taken on a very broad application, not uncommon with terms of art that morph into labels. In an effort to avoid its over-generalized and unattuned usage, I want to make a distinction between different forms of bypassing and shadow jumping, for they surely come in many forms.
The following list arose through observations of my own patterns and is intended as a self-assessment tool, one that can be used to support your own efforts to recognize and transform your methods of self-distraction.Some can be understood as branches of the spiritual bypass tree, while others have a meaningfully different quality.
This is, of course, not an exhaustive list, as there are as many ways to avoid reality as there are humans, but I am particularly interested in some of the ways that self-avoidance paths mask as enlightenment in the spiritual community in particular:
1. The positivity bypass (aka the bliss bypass)—The tendency to feign positivity/bliss in an effort to sidestep or rise above the unhealed shadow. Often associated with the ungrounded “It’s all Good” mantra.
2. The cerebral bypass—The tendency to seek refuge in the mind, to live in and through thoughts alone, to over-intellectualize the moment. Head-tripping in an effort to detach from the world of feeling. Often manifest as a profound capacity to articulate consciousness models and inquiries with little capacity to hearticulate and embody felt experience.
3. The witness bypass—The tendency to live in witness-observer consciousness, to stare at our unresolved pain body across the room and imagine ourselves present, to confuse helpful detachment practices with life itself. Meanwhile, our unresolved pain is congealing into weapons that turn inward against the self. Often manifest as a kind of glossy eyed pseudo-equanimity with reduced affect.
4. The pragmatism bypass—That is, remaining perpetually focused on practical reality in an effort to avoid an experience of unity, the bigger picture. Often manifest in great success in the material world, but a spiritually bankrupt life.
5. The All-One bypass—That is, remaining perpetually focused on unity consciousness in an effort to avoid our particular issues, challenges and practical needs. Often manifest as an ungrounded inability to meet grounded, basic needs while floating off into the great mystery.
6. The Non-Duality bypass—The tendency to self-identify as a non-dualist in an effort to transcend the human fray. Non-dual bypassers tend to conveniently remove everything that makes them uncomfortable from their unified framework- personal identifications, the unhealed emotional body, the entire ego, the self, the body- in an effort to transcend their humanness. Of course, there is nothing non-dual about it. Our humanness is the grist for the soul-mill. Without it, we can’t grow toward an authentic, sustainable experience of non-separateness.
7. The Accountability Bypass– The tendency to use ‘mirror/reflection’ and ‘no judgment’ techniques in an effort to sidestep our own responsibility or the responsibility of others for wrong action. Lodged in the ungrounded notion that there is no wrongdoing, the effect of these practices is to condone and perpetuate unhealthy behaviors and to discourage victims from their rightful and necessary healing process.
8. The You are not your story Bypass—The tendency to flee painful and confusing elements of our life experiences by disparaging story. Yes, we are often so much more than our stories, but let’ not throw the whole story out with the bath water. We also are our stories. At the heart of our story are the personal identifications, emotional material and unresolved issues that are the grist for the soul mill for our spiritual expansion. Without karmic clay to work through and with, our expansion is stalled.
9. The Karmic Contract Bypass—The tendency to attribute every single event on the planet to universal or soulular intentionality—that is, “you must have chosen it,” it was destined, it reflects your vibration, “everything happens for a reason”—in an effort to flee the painful, mysterious and misguided nature of many events and experiences. Those who participate in this bypass technique have a tendency to shame and shun their own experience, and to do the same to others where compassion and healing are required.
And my own, as yet unworked through tendency…
10. The Forgiveness Bypass—The tendency to avoid unresolved emotions and relational experiences by feigning forgiveness. Premature forgiveness. Often manifest in a tendency to shame those who haven’t forgiven, as though forgiving a wrongdoer is more important than healing itself. Real forgiveness requires a genuine working through of the emotions and memories related to our experiences. And, at the end of that process, it is the victim’s choice as to whether they choose to forgive.
Jeff Brown, former criminal lawyer and psychotherapist, Jeff Brown is the author of the best-selling book Soulshaping: A Journey of Self-Creation, and a popular book of spiritual graffiti- Ascending with Both Feet on the Ground. Endorsed by Oprah’s Soul Series radio host Elizabeth Lesser, authors Oriah Mountain Dreamer and Katherine Woodward Thomas, Ascending is a collection of some of Jeff’s most popular spiritual graffiti quotes, soul-bytes and aphorisms frequently shared in social media. He has been interviewed by CNN radio, appeared on Fox News.com, and written popular inspirations for ABC S Good Morning America. He is also the author of the viral blog Apologies to the Divine Feminine (from a warrior in transition) and the producer and key journeyer in the award winning spiritual documentary – Karmageddon- which also stars Ram Dass, Seane Corn, Wah! David Life, Deva Premal and Miten. His newest book- Love It Forward- is now published. Endorsed by best-selling authors Andrew Harvey and Caroline Myss, Love It Forward is another book of Jeff’s most impactful quotes and writings, with a strong emphasis on love and relationship quotes. You can check out his work at Soulshaping.